Monday, December 1, 2014

How Do I Find That Photograph?

So you're looking at something, and you think there might be a picture there.

A lot of people point their camera at it and push the button and they're done. Or they think for a second about shit like leading lines and isolating the subject, or whatever. They make some compositional choices based on what they know, and they do that, and then they push the button.

That will certainly expose a sensing system of some sort, but it's only going to make a photograph by accident.

Why do you think there's a picture there? How does it make you feel? What should it make you feel? What could it make you feel?

Let's say you see a gorgeous landscape. Great.

If you're a 500px photographer looking for upvotes, you're going to get a tripod, go somewhere hard to get to in hopes that your picture won't be an exact copy of someone else's, you're going to screw your Lee Big Stopper on the lens, you're going to take about a 60 second exposure. Then you're going to clean it up to the nines, push the greens to the limit, and post that piece of shit. And maybe you'll get a bunch of upvotes.

If you're me, maybe you take a few documentation shots just to remember what it looks like for later. You're going to think about it. What could this be? Could this be a gothic nightmare? A sun-drenched fairyland (see also: 500px photographer)? Is it majestic or bucolic? Is it beautiful, mundane, or both? Is it a maze of cliches? What's my concept here?

If there's no concept, there's no picture. Screw that. I have better things to do than make copies of photographs. I could, sure. But what would be the point?

If there is a concept, what am I going to need to make it happen? How do I present gothic, or bucolic, or cliched? How am I going to shoot that landscape, instead of the one I see in my documentation shots, instead of the ones I see on 500px?

What technical and compositional choices can I make to produce something that might hit the concept? What equipment will I need to execute those?

Then, if you're me, you go out and you do that. Probably you try several times. Quite likely the concept does not survive, but mutates, and becomes something related to the original but different. Sometimes the concept mutates into something non-viable, and it dies. That's OK too.

This is how Ansel Adams worked, essentially. Sometimes it took a couple years to get the shot that carried the concept. It worked out pretty often for Ansel. He was pretty stingy with the shutter button.

This is how Henri Cartier-Bresson worked, but it never took very long. And a lot of the time it didn't work out. Henri was pretty button-happy.

That's how you make photographs instead of copies of photos, or just random crummy assemblages of color.

At any rate, it's one way to do it.

I'll be breaking down the process a bit more in upcoming posts. I have more to say.

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